Monday, December 31, 2007

Hours of Service still in limbo

Today's Trucking: Court action filed against interim HOS rule

A little recap, after a 15 year process the rules that restrict the number of hours a truck driver may work in a week were significantly revised for the first time in 2003. The original rule had been written in 1937, then slightly altered in 1962. Congress had mandated that the rules be changed, had given a list of factors that the Agency should consider (the rule-making process outlasted the ICC and the FHWA and eventually became the purview of the FMCSA), but did not say exactly what the rules should be.

Under the old and the new rules drivers were restricted to working 60 hours in a 7 day period, or 70 hours in an 8 day period.
However under the new rules if you take 34 consecutive hours off your hours are "reset" and you have a fresh 60/70 to work.

Also the rules restricted the number of hours you could drive in a "day" (after 1962 the rules were no longer tied to a 24 hour day). Under the old rules you could drive for no more than 10 hours before you took an 8 hour break. You can work and drive up to 16 hours before you have to take an 8 hour break, so your "day" could be anywhere from 18 to 26 hours long. Also you could "split break" and take your sleep break in installments, extending your day. Under the new rules once you start working you have 14 hours from the start of your day until you can drive no more. Also you are allowed 11 hours of driving time in a day.

Basically it's typical sausage making. There are plusses and minuses for safety and for the carriers. The upside from a safety perspective is there is a limit on the number of hours in a day you can go before you have to get off the road and there are 2 more hours of break every night. The downside is that you can drive one more hour a day and you can, in theory work more hours in a week (theoretically you can work 88 hours in an 8 day period with the 34 hour reset). From a productivity perspective the upside is you can possibly get more miles in a day with the extra driving hour. The downside is that any time that you are sitting counts against your 14 hour clock. So if it takes 6 hours to get the truck loaded at a grocery warehouse you only have 8 hours available to drive (and that assumes no other stops or breaks). Keeping the truck moving becomes very important to maximizing revenue. Routes were rearranged, extra trucks and drivers were acquired, and everyone adapted to the new rule.

So this rule goes into effect. Several groups sue, arguing that the rule does not consider the health of the driver, one of the factors Congress had insisted be taken into account. Eventually the rule is thrown out by the courts in July 2004. The FMCSA argues that they cannot rewrite the rules in the 90 days alloted by the courts, So Congress writes a provision into a transportation bill that freezes the rules for a year allowing the agency time to redo the rules. So in 2005, the agency publishes the revised new rule, which is pretty much the same as the 2003 rule (light trucks were given an even more lenient rule and the last vestiges of "split breaking" were eliminated). They are sued again. The rule is thrown out again in 2007. They petition for a stay allowing them time to redo the rule. They get a stay (only 90 days instead of the requested year) and produce another "new" rule, which is in every way the same as the old one (only with more text justifying the rationale followed). So now they have been sued again.

You would think at some point the agency would catch on that the courts do not approve of what they are trying to do. Also, one could make the point if Congress had just written a new rule in legislation they could have gotten exactly what they wanted and we wouldn't be tied up in court. Another issue is that Congress has been steadily exempting various industries in response to lobbying. For instance, propane delivery drivers are exempt from the rules (which is kinda odd given the hazardous nature of the load). Right now we have the worst of both worlds. Congress can dodge responsibility for the rules (and loudly complain that the agency isn't doing what they want without ever specifying what exactly they want) and industries are still getting preferential treatment by lobbying.

I think that the best hope for a good rule before 2010 or so would be via legislation. The Agency has gone nowhere fast over the past 4 years and doesn't seem to have any intent other than running out the clock. Of course given the election I suspect there will not be a lot of energy left to deal with this issue. So I suppose we will wait and eventually we will have a permanent rule. Hopefully we won't be waiting another 20 years.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Guilty Pleasures

Pleasure derived from the outrage of prominent conservative pundits over the rising poll numbers of Mike Huckabee. Particularly sharp when the pundits in question are partisans of Rudy Giuliani, but extends to supporters of Mitt Romney as well. Usually experienced by evangelicals, crunchy cons, populists, and other un-airbrushed elements of the conservative coalition. Tends to coexist with an awareness that Huckabee isn't actually ready for prime time, and that his ascendancy may ultimately do their various causes more harm than good.

I admit to enjoying some Huckenfreude at the way the GOP establishment has come unhinged over Huckabee's rise. Listening to them reminds you of the liberal establishment going ape about Bush in '04 and '05 before they learned to pace themselves. Rush even took a break from popping pills and picking at his ingrown hairs to thunder forth that Mike Huckabee was liberal (which is what Rush calls anyone he doesn't like, even that guy with the Ron Paul button at Burger King that burned his triple whopper and gave him fries instead of rings). The Wall Street types were undecided whether to express alarm or contempt, so they just punted and displayed both.

The same folks who were the picture of tough minded paternalistic condescension to the Social cons when Rudy looked likely to win the thing going away "Look Paulie, I know he isn't everything you wanted, but times are tough now don'tcha see, and he's definitely better than that Hillary gal.", are now acting like they're in one of those Jim Cramer gone wild videos.

Even if I have ambiguous feelings about Huckabee I'm still enjoying seeing a man from "flyover country" make the Wall Street and Washington crowd sweat bullets.

Strange Thoughts

I was struck while listening to a Church History course podcast the parallels between the Reformation and the transformation of Judaism that occurred under Ezra. In both cases the Religion became more "book centered". In both cases there was a dislocation in the structure of the religion. In Judaism the Temple cultus was interrupted and the people of Judah found themselves in exile. In the case of the Reformation the authority of the church had been disrupted by the "Babylonian captivity" of the pope and the Great Schism.

In both cases the people has to form a new identity.

The followers of Adonai/YHWH found themselves cut off from the Temple rites and the land, the two centers of pre-exile belief. So they had to find a new way to define who they were. What did it mean to be Jewish in this strange new world. Of course eventually this new understanding (and the diaspora) would lead to many different subgroups within Judaism with very different views of the world.

The Christians of the 14th century found themselves in a similarly alien circumstance, with various popes of varying degrees of legitimacy all claiming to be the leader of the church. The pope was not yet the infallible vicar of Christ he would become in Catholic theology later on but still there was a tremendous dislocation where the people had to find a new way of thinking about what made one a real Christian. Out of this Wycliffe, Hus, and the other prereformers began to turn the Scriptures as the way to define Christianity, a change that would eventually revolutionize (and splinter) the Western church.

I don't know the moral/theological significance of the rough parallel, but I thought it was striking.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

"Profiles in Courage" by Mitt Romney

The Boston Globe: Fact Check: Romney's pardoning practices

Mitt Romney's new TV commercial questions the judgment of Mike Huckabee, his fellow Republican presidential contender, noting the rival issued 1,033 pardons and commutations as governor of Arkansas while Romney issued none while leading Massachusetts.

Left out of the spot is perhaps Romney's most noteworthy pardon denial: his rejection of the request of an Iraq war veteran who was trying to become a police officer after his National Guard service.

Anthony Circosta's offense? Shooting a friend in the arm with a BB gun as 13-year-old. The impact didn't break the skin.

....In 2005, while serving in Iraq, Circosta filed for a pardon, seeking to fulfill his dream of becoming a police officer. It was denied twice, despite a favorable recommendation from the state's Board of Pardons.

Circosta returned home a Bronze Star winner after leading a platoon in Iraq's deadly Sunni triangle.

Political analysts have suggested Romney crafted guidelines for issuing pardons and commutations that ensured he would never have to grant either, sparing him of any repeat of the Willie Horton case that dogged another Massachusetts governor, Democrat Michael Dukakis, during his 1988 presidential campaign. Dukakis was criticized for the weekend furlough granted to Willie Horton, a convicted murderer who went on to rape a woman and beat her boyfriend while free.

....He said the only reasons he would have issued a pardon or commutation would have been if he found evidence that proved a wrongful conviction, prosecutorial misconduct or errors in the judicial process.

Today, Romney uses the latter rationales for explaining why he would be open to considering a pardon for I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former White House aide convicted of perjury in the CIA leak case.

Mitt wants to president, real bad. Avenge his father's honor and all that. So Mitt says what he has to say to become governor of Massachusetts, says what he has to say in order to run for Senate. Mitt Doesn't want to follow in the footsteps of Michael Dukakis, so he creates a brain dead procedure that will always reject any pardon petition. That way we will never question his judgment and interrupt his trek to the Death Star White House.

But now Mitt's path is blocked. Mitt angry, Mitt SMASH the Huckabee. Mitt creates ads attacking Mike Huckabee because Huck made a decision to pardon someone who committed another crime. Too bad Huck wasn't clever like Mitt.

But now it comes out that Mitt's "procedure" has spat out the result that Scooter Libby should be pardoned. Mitt is pleasantly surprised and all. But here we are wondering about his judgment again. D'oh!

Mitt thinks Scooter Libby, who has never admitted wrongdoing for his recent crime, is more worthy of a pardon than Anthony Circosta, who admitted wrongdoing for a crime committed as a child and has since distinguished himself in service to his country. Of course, Scooter probably knows folks who can do nice things for Mitt, and poor Anthony, well he doesn't. Maybe Anthony should have thought a little harder about how to serve his country